RIO DE JANEIRO - Japan has not seen one of its athletics competitors on the top step of the podium since the 2004 Olympics in Athens, when Mizuki Noguchi ran to a win on the historic marathon course and Koji Murofushi took the Olympic title in the hammer.
Since then, pickings have been slim in track and field and all indications are that the struggle will continue for Japan at Rio 2016.
Japan will have a number of outside athletics medal chances in the Rio de Janiero sun, with the best hope likely Kayoko Fukushi in the women’s marathon.
The 34-year-old from Aomori Prefecture in the far north of Japan’s main island goes to Brazil with in a tie with another runner for the sixth-fastest time over the marathon distance in 2016.
Fukushi, who will be running in an Olympic marathon for the first time, clocked two hours, 22 minutes, 17 seconds — a personal best — at the Osaka Women’s Marathon in January 2016, a race she won by over six minutes.
“I want to win gold in the marathon at the Rio Olympics. I was never able to say ‘I’m aiming for gold’ the last three times I participated, but I can for the marathon (in Rio),” said Fukushi, who will compete in her fourth Olympics after running the 5,000- and 10,000-meter events earlier in her career, with her best Olympic result a 10th-place finish over the longer distance in London in 2012.
“I think it’s because winning gold is a feat that has been achieved before. That makes me think I have a chance and I will aim for gold so I can be on the same level as them,” she said after her selection to the team.
In the men’s 50-km walk Takayuki Tanii, the 2015 World Championships bronze medalist over the distance, will challenge for a top-3 spot. The reigning national champion will be joined by Hiroki Arai, the walker who ended 2015 with the world’s second-fastest time of the year, and Koichiro Morioka.
Murofushi failed in his bid for a fifth Olympic Games and third hammer medal when, at the recent national championships in Nagoya, he came up short, blaming a lack of preparation for his poor performance after having taken some time out of the sport. That leaves national champion Ryota Kashiwamura with some big shoes to fill.
Japan’s sprinting prospects are looking better than they have in some time, with Asuka Cambridge and Yoshihide Kiryu leading the charge in the men’s events.
Cambridge gained his place in Rio with a national championships win, running 10.16 seconds over 100 meters with Kiryu a long way back in third, but doing enough to get an Olympic ticket.
“It’s my first Olympics so I’ll enjoy it, will try to run in as many rounds as I can,” said the Jamaican-born Cambridge. “It’s important to keep on winning. If you’re winning the time will follow.”
The 23-year-old will be looking to take advantage of running with the cream of the athletics world, with his stated aim to be the first Japanese runner to break the 10-second barrier a possibility if he can be dragged along.
Japan’s sprint queen Chisato Fukushima heads to her third Olympic Games after winning the sprint double at the 2016 national championships, bettering her own national record in winning her sixth-consecutive 200-meter national title along the way.
The Hokkaido-born 28-year-old called her effort in Nagoya a “springboard” to better things, things that might include a career best performance in Rio.